In The Cutting Season, we meet Caren Gray, a young single mother working as the manager of a crumbling Louisiana antebellum plantation that's been turned in to a wedding and banquet facility. She and her nine year old daughter live on the property, spending their days in the same buildings where Caren's mother once worked as a cook, and where her three times great grandfather was a slave. The plantation sits up against a sugar cane field, and when one of the cane workers is found in the slave quarters with her throat slit, Caren no longer feels at home at Belle Vie.
As the police investigation circles in on one of Caren's employees, Caren's own investigation circles in on the owners of the plantation, the Clancy family, and the sugar company next door. With the help of an intrepid journalist, Caren begins to uncover more than she ever expected, including a new mystery: what happened to Belle Vie's runaway slave, who just so happens to be Caren's great grandfather.
The mysteries themselves aren't that difficult to solve, but they aren't really the point of the novel. Locke uses them as a way to explore race relations, the class system that still exists in this country, and the way that the South often tries to soften the edges of its sometimes brutal history. I love books set in the South, but very few of them - or at least very few of the ones I've read - have explored the uglier side of the region, and even fewer explore it from the point of view of someone who is affected by those uglier sides. And, too, this book is an interesting look at the way that race relations aren't always about the black/white divide. There is a larger statement in here about the way we treat immigrants, both legal and illegal, and this book makes me realize that the days of us welcoming the huddled masses are probably over for good.
When Dennis Lehane chooses your novel as the first one he publishes under his new imprint, you've got to make sure you get it right. Attica Locke certainly did. This is her second novel; her first is on my TBR list.